Monday, March 08, 2010

Mass firings at R.I. school may signal a trend

What's going on at one school in Rhode Island is REALLY important and has national implications, which is why Randi is getting personally involved.  Three cheers to Arne Duncan for supporting Deborah Gist here!  CBS News is covering it ( and here's a spot-on article in the USA Today that quotes Fordham's Andy Smarick and DFER's Joe Williams:

 Mass firings at R.I. school may signal a trend


The mass firing of teachers at a Rhode Island high school this week is hardly new: For nearly two decades, states and school districts have been "reconstituting" staffs at struggling public schools.

But Tuesday's move by Central Falls, R.I., Superintendent Frances Gallo to remove all 74 teachers, administrators and counselors at the district's only high school may be the first tangible result of an aggressive push by the Obama administration to get tough on school accountability — and may signal a more fraught relationship between teachers unions and Democratic leaders.

"This may be one school in one town, but it represents a much bigger phenomenon," says Andy Smarick of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C., education think tank. "Thanks to years of work battling the achievement gap and the elevation of reform-minded education leaders, we may finally be getting serious about the nation's lowest-performing schools."

President Obama was elected in 2008 with the support of teachers groups nationwide, but since then, he and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have taken up the cause of fixing the USA's most struggling schools. Duncan will soon release a list of 5,000 identified as most in need of reform.

On Tuesday, Duncan praised the district for "doing the right thing for kids."

Gallo had asked the local school board to approve the firings after State Superintendent Deborah Gist issued a list of the state's worst-performing schools, which included Central Falls. Compiling the list was a requirement for states to qualify for a share of Duncan's $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant, to be awarded in March.

Central Falls Teachers Union President Jane Sessums says teachers want "genuine reforms, not quick fixes that do nothing but create a wedge between teachers, our school and our community." And Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, expressed frustration about the firings in a statement Wednesday, saying they were "a failed approach."

But Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform, a political action group, says: "This is what real political cover can do for public education. You see very clear signals coming from Washington that the Obama administration is serious about turning around our worst schools."

Central Falls has long been one of the worst-performing in Rhode Island. Just 7% of 11th-graders tested last fall were proficient in math and 55% were proficient in reading. In 2008, 52% of students graduated within four years.

Smarick says the fact that a "Democratic administration and a quiet New England town" have embraced such a bold strategy suggests that "serious interventions may finally become the rule instead of the exception."

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